Copper lanterns are striking to look at and there has been a real copper revival in recent years. Copper has been around for centuries and is popular due to its ability to withstand the elements and age beautifully over time.  Because copper is such a versatile material, there are many different finishes available, each with their own properties and maintenance requirements.  Here we outline some of the different copper finishes that can be used on lanterns and some advantages, disadvantages and things to consider.

Copper Finishing Techniques

Lacquered Copper

Lacquer is a protective coating, or ‘finish’. It is applied to the copper surface by brushing on multiple layers of liquid lacquer.  Once each layer is dry, the next layer is added, often by hand, and this process continues until the lantern is covered in the depth of lacquer required for its setting.

  • Lacquer imparts a glossy finish, a bit like paint
  • Lacquer protects against rain but won’t allow for any patination
  • Lacquer can be cleaned by wiping off dust with warm water

A lacquered copper finish creates a desirable, shiny appearance and is durable.  While you may notice some very fine scratches over time as your lantern ages, lacquering a copper lantern is a good way to make it long-lasting.

Lacquer is not an especially porous material so lacquered copper lanterns can sometimes be more difficult and time consuming to clean.  Lacquer doesn’t breathe well and so can trap moisture inside the lantern if it is left outdoors in humid environments for extended periods of time (i.e. during a rainstorm).

Lacquered lanterns do need to be cleaned and maintained regularly.  If they are in a setting that is subject to frequent rain or humidity, it is wise to open the sides up and ‘air’ the lantern during dry spells.  

Handcrafted copper lantern

Polished and buffed copper

A polished copper finish is achieved using abrasive tools to sand the copper pieces either by hand or mechanically.  A buffed finish is a chemical finish, and it gives the lantern the same smooth shine as polished metal.

  • Polishing and buffing provides a soft lustre that shows off the natural beauty of copper
  • Polished copper requires regular cleaning to prevent tarnishing
  • Polished and buffed copper will age over time with exposure to elements

Both of these finishes are shiny, smooth and not as durable as lacquered metal because they don’t have any protective coating on them like lacquers do.  Polished and buffed finishes are popular for copper lanterns that are to be placed indoors.

Polished copper lantern

Chemical finish

A chemical finish is (as the name suggests) a chemical process that creates a uniform patina. The copper, when exposed to certain chemicals, will uniformly darken in colour and the process creates a protective coating on the surface of the lantern. This type of finish can be more durable than lacquer.

Copper lanterns with a chemical finish can be more expensive than lacquered versions because they require an extra step during production: applying and curing the chemicals to get that perfect patina finish. In addition, when cleaning a lantern of this type, special care is needed.

Natural patina

When copper is left to its own devices and not touched or ‘finished’, over time a natural patina develops.  A natural patina is specific to the lantern’s environment and is influenced by many factors including, air humidity, temperature and other chemicals already in the area.  Visually, a natural patina is charming and oozes character.  It is a stamp of heritage that is hard to replicate.

“Patina” is a chemical process that happens naturally when metal is left to the elements. The metal oxidizes when exposed to air, much like an avocado (or any fresh surface for that matter) begins to turn brown after being cut. It is a chemical process. Patina is what makes an antique copper pot spot and rich in colour.” (Raw Urth Designs, 2022)

One of the wonders of a natural patina is that each patina is totally unique.  Patina changes over time and shows different patterns and colours depending on the lantern’s experiences and environment.  Verdigris, which is often associated with aged copper, is the common name for blue-green, copper-based pigments that form a patina on copper, bronze, and brass.  A stunning patina that is achieved after several years of ageing.  A natural patina can accelerated by heat, but it is a slow process.

Directionally textured copper

Directional texturing is a process that creates a pattern on the surface of the copper. Patterns can be made by hand or with a machine and they can be random or uniform, symmetrical or asymmetrical, metallic or matte. The direction in which the tool moves over the copper will determine whether you get an angular pattern (like chevrons) or a curved one (like waves).  Directional texturing adds an extra level of detail to a lantern and can really enhance the overall look and feel in some cases.

Our Finishes For Copper Lanterns

Copper is a fantastic material for lanterns and can be finished and detailed in several ways.  As well as being beautiful to look at, it is naturally water-resistant, so doesn’t rust or corrode. As we’ve outlined above copper also has the ability to ‘patina’, which means that over time it changes colour and can turn green or blue depending on how much moisture it has been exposed to.  Finding the right finish for your copper lantern will depend on what kind of appearance you want from it and where it will be placed.   Contact one of our experts today to find out more or chat through your requirements. 

Further reading 

  • To read more about the scientific applications of copper visit the ASE website.
  • Find out what a coppersmith actually does in our blog.